Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The President’s Boilerplate Address to Berliners

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

Aside from the usual Obama “hope and change/yes we can” boilerplate platitudes, there were also the same old disturbing and disingenuous statements in his Berlin speech.

Given the repeated references to the Berlin Wall and its demise, one might have thought that Barack Obama had showed up for the 20th-anniversary ceremony of the fall in November 2009 — which, sadly, in comparison to accepting the Nobel Peace Prize or lobbying for a Chicago Olympics was not so high a priority on his European agenda.

The president updated a bit his 2012 campaign talking points: “The Iraq War is now over. The Afghan war is coming to an end. Osama bin Laden is no more. Our efforts against al-Qaeda are evolving.” Note the curious post-Benghazi phrase, “are evolving.” I suppose it was a nod to the hit on our “consulate” and CIA operation, the Boston bombing, and a reminder that earlier prognostications about the veritable end of al-Qaeda, if true, might not justify the recently disclosed NSA spying.

Otherwise the theme of war is still “out of sight, out of mind.” Yes, the Iraq War is over for us, but a small residual force might have given Iraqis a shot at less violence. The Afghan war is not coming to an end; it is entering a new post-American cycle as the Taliban prepare for our departure, and our worried friends there will make the necessary adjustments.

So these are popular and probably effective talking points, but not serious appraisals of current wars. Note that “victory” and “defeat” are never in the presidential vocabulary. The president was wise not to mention Egypt, Iran, Libya, or Syria. If the president can issue executive orders on everything from election-year amnesties to not enforcing existing laws, then by now he should have found a way to close down Guantanamo, if it really were the late, great al-Qaeda’s “chief recruiting tool.”

When the president promises to make radical cuts in the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal, he seems to think that he governs a power that is roughly the antithesis of Putin’s Russia. But it is not so; in the post–Cold War, the U.S. — there are no more clients of the Soviet Union — is responsible for lots of strategic paradoxes, such as the non-nuclear status of democratic powerhouses such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and, yes, Germany along with other European states. These states, while they are capable of quickly building nuclear weapons in the same manner that they churn out Hondas or BMWs, do not become nuclear, precisely because of the vast American arsenal that guarantees them, in both the material and psychological sense, that they will be left alone by an ascendant China, a rogue Iran or Pakistan, or a bullying Russia.

In other words, we have more nuclear weapons than do others, because we have far more responsibilities to the democracies of the world to protect them, and because it is in our national interest to pay for and maintain a large arsenal rather than see a Japan or South Korea go nuclear. The president’s idealism will please the crowds, delight the Russians, Chinese, and Iranians, and scare allied militaries.

When the president talks of climate change, he does not mention that his own Democratically controlled House and Senate did not pass cap-and-trade from 2009 through 2010, perhaps because there is no evidence that the planet heated up in the last 15 years, much less that it heated up because of human causes. Instead, the president is stuck in Al Gore’s 2000-era rhetoric, as is Germany itself. And when he talks of reducing carbon emissions, he fails to note two key contributors to cleaner air: The longest downturn since the Great Depression cut travel and work, and the vast expansion in natural gas — despite not because of Obama’s efforts — gave us cleaner generated electricity. Were Germany to have more natural gas, such a clean-burning fuel would do more for carbon-emission reduction than all its subsidized wind and solar programs.

One final observation. Usually the president decries the very activity that his own administration is knee-deep in, e.g., he laments partisanship and then becomes the most partisan administration in memory; so too in this speech with the abuse of government. When he soars with, “But we must accept the challenge that all of us in democratic governments face: to listen to the voices who disagree with us; to have an open debate about how we use our powers and how we must constrain them; and to always remember that government exists to serve the power of the individual, and not the other way around,” one might forget about the single video filmmaker languishing in jail as the fall-guy of Benghazi, the altered Benghazi talking points, the partisan abuse of the IRS, the monitoring of the AP and Fox’s James Rosen, the Lisa Jackson fakery at EPA, the mystery of Sharyl Attkisson’s computer, and the new NSA disclosures.

Again, Obama is most eloquent when warning us of a government modeled after himself.

I’m sure the small crowd of Berliners agreed with most of what was said in the speech, and remain largely supportive of Obama, and share the latter’s critiques of the pre-Obama U.S. Yet their leaders might appreciate the irony of it all: Europe and Germany got what they wanted, and now they will have to live with it: an increasingly statist, chronic $1 trillion annual deficit; a U.S. whose economy may not pull anyone out of recession; an administration that can do almost anything it wishes because there is no longer an American adversarial press; a U.S. that is a supporter of Erdogan’s Turkey and Morsi’s Egypt; an increasingly hollow NATO, led from behind by a U.S. that is facing big defense cuts; and a president who really is not into the whole idea of a unique West and its exceptional history or culture — much less any special relationship with Europe, past or present.

But on the other hand, the Europeans are probably not much into their unique past or culture either.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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